Pennsylvania is currently home to the Berks County Family Detention Center (BCRC), one of three detention centers for immigrant families, where children as young as two-weeks-old have been incarcerated, and families have been held for more than a year at a time. Berks is the only publicly-owned family detention center in the country.
The Shut Down Berks Coalition is a group of organizations and individuals fighting to close the Berks family prison in Pennsylvania and end the practice of imprisoning immigrant families in the U.S. Members of the coalition include organizers, lawyers, immigrant leaders, and allies.
You Can Take Action! Download the Shut Down Berks Action Toolkit today.
Family Detention Violates the Law
In 2009, and again in August 2015, a Federal Court determined that the practice of detaining children in jail-like settings for extended periods of time is illegal and ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to comply with the original Flores Agreement that determined family detention was illegal (see full report on federal litigation).
- The Flores Agreement states that children may not be detained for more than 20 days, may not be held in a “secure” facility, and may not be held in a facility that is not licensed for the care of children.
- Pennsylvania law prohibits detaining children who have not been adjudicated (convicted by a judge).
- Pennsylvania law does not have a license that covers facilities that house children and adults together.
In January 2016, the PA Department of Human Services revoked the license to operate the Berks County Family Residential Center, and the facility license has been under legal review since February 22, 2016.
How Gov. Wolf and PA DHS Can Shut Down Berks
In Dec. 2016, the Sheller Center for Social Justice of the Beasley Law School of Temple University produced a legal memo outlining the legal powers of PA DHS and the Governor to close the Berks Detention Center. The key findings from the Sheller Center’s legal memo:
- The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (“PA DHS”) has the authority to regulate the Berks County Residential Center (“Berks”)
- Despite the fact that Berks holds federal detainees, Pennsylvania laws regarding the operation of child residential facilities still apply
- PA DHS will not violate federal law (in fact it will comply with federal law set out in Flores decision) if it chooses to issue an Emergency Removal Order (ERO) or a Cease and Desist Order
- PA DHS can work with the federal government to provide ample notice so that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement can address the situation of detainees prior to shutting the facility down
If you have a group of 10 or more people who want to get involved, fill our request form for an in-depth educational webinar on the campaign!
You can donate to support the Campaign to Shut Down Berks through Free Migration Project. Please select “Shut Down Berks” on the donation menu.
Read more on the harms caused by family detention and recommendations for ending family detention:
- Human Rights First reports on Berks Detention Center from Aug. 2015 and Feb. 2016.
- American Immigration Council Report “Divided by Detention: Asylum-Seeking Families’ Experiences of Separation”
- AILA resources on Family Detention. 2016.
- “Detained children risk life-long physical and mental harm” Karen Zwi, Pediatrician and Associate Professor, UNSW. 2015.
- Human Rights First “Family Detention: Still Happening, Still Damaging”
- Grassroots Leadership resources on Family Detention
- Why Detaining Children is Harmful. UNICEF. 2018.
- Mental health implications of detaining asylum seekers: systematic review. The British Journal of Psychiatry
- Detention of Immigrant Children. Council on Community Pediatrics. 2017
Shut Down Berks Campaign Press*
- October 23, 2020. Employee at Berks County immigration detention center tests positive for COVID-19. WHYY
- August 26, 2020. Las Madres de Berks: Stories of detained immigrant families — and the fight to shutter Pa.’s oldest family prison. WHYY
- March 31, 2020. Guatemalan girl and her father freed from Berks immigrant detention center. Philadelphia Inquirer
- March 28, 2020. What Happens When a 5-Year-Old in ICE Detention Is Considered a Coronavirus Risk. Mother Jones
- December 11, 2019. Close the Berks immigrant family detention center, Pennsylvania auditor general says. Philadelphia Inquirer
- October 29, 2019. Gov. Wolf and a Berks County official are plotting ways to close an immigrant detention center. WHYY
- October 29, 2019. Enough kids to open a day care: Activists push anew to shut down Berks detention center. Philadelphia Inquirer
- July 26, 2019. In lawsuit against Berks County detention center, court rules immigrants have right to be free from sexual assault. The Morning Call
- July 20, 2019. Two PA Democrats Make Surprise Visit To Berks’ Immigrant Detention Facility. WESA
- June 22, 2018. Why PA’s controversial Berks detention center for immigrant families is still open. Billy Penn
- April 25, 2018. The truth about the Berks County Residential Center. Al Día
- April 23, 2018. Amid licensing limbo, immigration advocates push to shut down Pa. detention center. WHYY
- October 23, 2017. Paper flowers bring messages of freedom from Berks Detention Center. WHYY
- May 10, 2017. Advocates Pressure Gov. Wolf To Shut Down Berks Residential Center. KYW Newsradio 1060
- May 9, 2017. Pa. fights to shut down immigrant family detention center in Berks. Philadelphia Inquirer
- May 5, 2017. Pennsylvania Doubles Down on Revoking Child-Care License for Controversial Family Detention Center. Rewire News
- April 24, 2017. Berks detention center for immigrant mothers and children wins licensing appeal. The Philadelphia Inquirer
- December 21, 2016. The Berks Mothers’ Christmas Wish: Their Families’ Freedom. Philly Magazine
- December 19, 2016. Berks detention center protesters arrested in Harrisburg. 69 News
- September 2, 2016. 22 Migrant Women Held in Pennsylvania Start a Hunger Strike to Protest Detention. The New York Times
- April 23, 2016. Immigration facility guard given jail time for sexual assault of detainee. The Guardian
- March 5, 2016. U.S. holding families in custody to keep others from crossing the border. The Washington Post
- February 22, 2016. Berks County Detention Center Housing Immigrant Families Loses License. NBC 10
- February 22, 2016. A Visit to Berks Family Detention Center Makes Clear Why They Lost their License. Immigration Impact
- October 23, 2015. Pa. won’t renew license of immigrant-family detention center. Philadelphia Inquirer
- September 15, 2015. Berks County center criticized for asylum detention methods. Philadelphia Inquirer
- June 17, 2015. Migrant children and parents await their fate in US detention centers. Al Jazeera America
- June 10, 2015. Mothers at Berks family detention camp launch work strike (Updated). Al Día
*This is a selection, not a comprehensive list.